Cleveland Browns  

 

Jimmy Haslam's revised Cleveland Browns are no laughingstock

On Tuesday morning, the Cleveland Browns cleaned house. Again. General manager Michael Lombardi -- gone. CEO Joe Banner -- on his way out. It seemed stunning, even by Browns standards.

Who gives the brass the boot in early February after a coaching search? And why does this seem like an annual tradition?

If you listened closely, wherever you were in this great country, you heard the media and fans cackling in unison. It was like Jimmy Haslam's press conference was a sitcom filmed in front of a live studio audience, or a Chris Rock comedy special.

The Browns were mocked as clowns, a mess of an organization. Cleveland changing coaches and executives like you change your socks. Everyone was having a grand old time yukking it up.

Laugh now, but the joke will be on you later.

Haslam saw a problem. He fixed it. The Browns are much better off. Seriously.

Haslam is an easy target: He buys the team, makes sweeping changes, oddly structures the front office, unsuccessfully targets big-name coaches before settling on Rob Chudzinski, fires Chud less than 365 days later, struggles to find a coach who wants the gig, hires Mike Pettine to coach the team despite Banner's dreams of Dan Quinn, then gets rid of Banner and Lombardi.


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Whew. I need a rest after re-reading that.

Such rapid and unrelenting change can signal the lack of a plan or vision -- and maybe that's the case here. Or maybe Jimmy Haslam just hit a home run.

The Lombardi and Banner dynamic wasn't working. TheMMQB.com's Peter King and The Plain Dealer's Mary Kay Cabot have provided some excellent reporting on Cleveland's issues over the past few days, including King's detailing of Greg Schiano's interview with the Browns, which revealed dysfunction and disconnect at the top.

One coaching agent told me on Tuesday, "Jimmy (Haslam) had one idea. Mike had another. Joe another one. That leads to confusion and chaos. That's what happened with the coaching search in both of the last two years. That's the turn-off." Or as one rival executive explained to me, "Mike is a great football guy, but he couldn't get many things he wanted past Joe. It just didn't work. Now, with Ray (Farmer), they are back in business."

Oh, yes, they are.

Farmer is a highly respected personnel man in the NFL. Well before this promotion, it was clear that he was on the fast track to becoming a general manager somewhere. He's detail-oriented and intelligent, and he will get things done. Haslam said Farmer will have full control of the 53-man roster. That's a big deal. Lombardi, the prior GM, did not enjoy this luxury. Farmer recently had the chance to become the Miami Dolphins' general manager, but he passed to stay in Cleveland. While folks laugh at the Browns, that says something.

Cleveland won four games in 2013. But with the regime changes, a whole bunch of cap space and a ton of talent already on the roster, I think the Browns are in prime position to double their win total in 2014. Again, seriously.

Pettine might not have been the team's first choice, but he's an excellent one. He was a superb assistant at his first two NFL stops (Baltimore Ravens and New York Jets), and he immediately turned around the Buffalo Bills' defense as their coordinator last year. Pettine brings a much-needed blend of savvy, swagger and sensibility to Cleveland's head-coaching position.

I talked to Pettine two weeks ago on my SiriusXM Radio show, "Schein on Sports," and he raved about the Browns' talent on defense. "We are going to have an attacking-style defense that Cleveland fans will be proud of," he said. Given Pettine's history, the Browns' strong pass rushers and Joe Haden's emergence as one of the NFL's best corners, it seems Cleveland's defense is indeed going to rock.

I also loved the choice of Kyle Shanahan for the offensive coordinator position. Executives rave about the young coach's shrewdness in the X's-and-O's sense. And with the impending passing of the Brandon Weeden era, Shanahan will have the opportunity to help define a fresh approach at the quarterback position. Talking to Pettine, it's clear there is no question the Browns will bring in a new QB or two. How great would Kirk Cousins look in a Cleveland uniform, reuniting with Shanahan? Even better, how great would Johnny Manziel look running Shanahan's offense? Say what you want about Mr. Football, but he, along with Pettine and Shanahan, would give the Browns the right attitude and mentality going into Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.

The Browns have two first-round picks and 10 overall in an incredibly deep draft. They have options.

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And with all that cap room, they can make a splash in free agency, too. How about signing Ben Tate to play running back? That'd fill a gaping hole. And check the list of receivers hitting the open market -- some enticing options there. Do you think Eric Decker or Hakeem Nicks would look good alongside Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron?

Laughing is healthy. I encourage it. But stop chuckling at Cleveland. Get past the bevy of changes. Look at the result of the perceived insanity.

It's easy to compare this to George Steinbrenner's New York Yankees of the 1980s. But maybe the better comparison is to what happened in the winter of 1995, when "The Boss" hired Bob Watson and some guy named Joe Torre. Remember when the back page of the New York Daily News screamed "Clueless Joe"?

The Browns are actually moving in the right direction. Get past the laughter and think about it.

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.

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